Thursday, October 27, 2011

Will Twitter on golf television remove the "social" from the media?

A Twitter feed will share TV screen space with Nationwide Tour golfers this weekend as Golf Channel features writers offering analysis alongside of already long-winded commentary. Do I really need on-screen "captions" telling me what I'm already watching? Is Golf Channel removing the "social" from the media?

You can see what Golf Channel intends to do here but the screen caption does not give me faith in their new "Social Media Saturday". The comment by Rex Hoggard says it all, "Watching JJ Killeen roll up his pants could be an amazing shot from the water." He follows up with, "Hope everyone is watching on the Golf Channel." Oh boy, if this is what golf fans are in for, this golf TV network just took two steps backward!

First, I can see that Killeen is in the water and am excited to watch the shot. Second, I do not need the Golf Channel to place its ad directly in front of me as I'm watching this amazing shot. I hope the commentary is both humorous and entertaining...and tell me something that I don't already know!

Hoggard, joined by Randall Mell, will replace traditional play-by-play commentary during their allotted time, which will be during the next to last group and final pairing of the Nationwide Tour Championship from South Carolina.

It doesn't seem as if some fans have faith in the new concept as it will be displayed on Saturday.

@Courtgolf, for example stated, "This tells me that xxx Golf Channel thinks their people are more important than the players. I hope this is a short lived experiment in media intrusion."
Fogroller so eloquently said, "Oh great, now we can have Rich Lerner and Kelly Tilghman kiss Tiger's butt on our twitter feed!! No thanks."

The concept sounds intriguing, but isn't social media meant to be interactive?

When I asked @dennis_allen about adding a Twitter feed to golf broadcasts, although he liked the idea, he was concerned about the lack of fan engagement. "Why just one way tweets?" Dennis questioned, and he has a valid point. The "one-way traffic mentality" as Allen conjectured, leaves fans without a way to engage, to be social.

Devil Ball Golf, agrees that Twitter integration with golf broadcasting is a great idea but wonders if an opportunity is being missed by not adding fan tweets to the mix. "social media...opens the door wide to amateur commentators from all over the planet, many of whom are much funnier and more incisive, at least for one tweet, than the professionals."

I have a few concerns regarding the Twitter format. For one, the feed is directly in my line of sight.  Golf is a picturesque sport and I enjoy gazing at the course on my screen. Perhaps the feed should be rolling across the bottom of my screen so as not to disrupt the visuals.

I also have a problem with the type of tweets that will be featured and when they will be placed: the eighteenth hole is the most exciting portion of the golf tournament, in my opinion. If Golf Channel wants to experiment with new technology, do it during a portion of the broadcast that begs for attention.

Finally, Twitter allows for social engagement: let the fans have a say!

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Is Keegan Bradley flying to China on the wings of Phil Mickelson?

Keegan Bradley, the sensational rookie winner of the PGA Championship, says he can’t wait to take his place at Asia’s only World Golf Championship, the WGC-HSBC Champions, in Shanghai in November. Tim Maitland reports.
The 25-year-old nephew of LPGA legend Pat Bradley had already booked his ticket to China when he sealed his maiden PGA Tour win at the Byron Nelson Championship in May. He guaranteed he’d be one of the stars of the show in Shanghai when he joined the flood of recent first-time Major winners and put his name next to those of Francis Oiumet (1913) and Ben Curtis (2003) as only the third player in the history of golf to win such a prestigious title at his first attempt. Further icing on the cake came last week when he won the four-player (2011) Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda.
“I’ve watched that tournament on TV for as long as it’s been there. I can remember a lot of the holes. It’s exciting to think I’ve qualified to play in that tournament. I always think of that 18th hole and the water on the right with the huge red HSBC pyramid floating in the water. That’s what comes to my mind,” Bradley says.
“I remember when Phil slid his wedge right under and then chipped it and made par (in 2009). I remember that. It’s a great tournament. It’s going to be an honour to go there. It’s an exciting thing. For a rookie like me it’s a no-brainer; that’s one of the highlights of the schedule.”
Born and raised in New England, Bradley graduated from St John’s University in New York City and worked his way through the Hooters and Nationwide Tours before earning his PGA Tour card for the 2011 season. His only previous experience of playing in Asia was in 2009 at the Korean Golf Tour’s SK Telecom Open at the Sky 72 Golf Club in Incheon. He finished 14th place in an event won by Park Sang-Hyun.
“That was fun. I had a buddy who worked over there and he got me a sponsor’s invite and I got to go over: people were so nice and it was really, really fun so I’m really looking forward to getting back over there. My buddy Brendan Steele played over in Europe earlier this year and he loved it. It’s a fun thing to be able to go and play over there and to be in such a great tournament. I think the tournaments over there are first class and it’s part of the game now to play worldwide and to get some exposure over there is an exciting thought. Everybody’s so nice. It seems like golf is a worldwide game so people really can relate and understand what you’re going through. It’s exciting.”
Bradley’s eagerness to get to China can be traced back to a more humble upbringing that the name of his illustrious aunt might suggest. His father Mark was originally a night waterman at the Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club in Jackson, Wyoming before returning east to become a golf professional just before Keegan was born.
“Everything for me is a bonus out here. I didn’t grow up with a lot so anything that happens out here is a huge bonus. I try to look at it that way. I got nothing to lose, pretty much. Dad was a club pro and I’d just travel around with him. I’d get up early and go to work with him and hang out at the course all day. Golf was what I always loved and I still love it. I’m lucky to be out here!” Bradley explains.
Bradley’s also lucky that one of the players to take him under his wing this season has been four-time Major champion Phil Mickelson, who is also a two-time winner of the HSBC Champions. The stories he heard from Mickelson and his other friends on tour just made Keegan even keener to go to China.
“Everyone’s got nothing but great things to say. I would be honoured to play. Every single person I’ve talked to says it’s a great experience. They just said China’s a really cool place and that the tournament treats you great and cater to whatever the player needs, which is really, really cool. I’ve played on a lot of mini Tours and they do just about the opposite of that. When you get out here and get to be treated like this is a pleasure,” Bradley says.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Can YOU learn golf from an Avatar?

I have always learned golf from an instructor face-to-face either on-course or, when I thought my swing needed video analysis, indoors at a facility such as GolfTec, where an evaluation was held by a teaching pro offering golf tips and a drill or two for future use. 


With golf videos and applications readily at hand today via computers and through smartphones, I was introduced to a website in which a PGA instructor, with help from an avatar, teaches everything from how to set a correct grip to proper chipping and putting techniques.


[[posterous-content:pid___0]]Rick Nielsen, avatar, teaching golf to beginners


Can a beginner learn how to play golf from a computer program?


Rick Nielsen, PGA head golf instructor at Randall's Island in New York, is answering the above question in a new website,, which I believe is ready to roll out after its recent BETA testing. I got a chance to watch a golf video and decide for myself.


I followed along with the avatar (I don't think he has a name yet but he is cute) for the four-minute "Golf Grip" video. Although the steps seemed rather simple, I am no longer a beginner. This is not to say that a newbie will have trouble following directions but I remember my first lessons.


After my first grip, alignment, stance, posture session (G.A.S.P.), I was dazed and a bit confused. I had to run right over to my booth and practice, all the while looking over at my instructor who nodded and gave me much needed encouragement! I still enjoy direct, face-to-face connection with an instructor for a Q&A and to make sure I'm correctly positioned.


I also don't know how a golfer, especially a beginner, will be able to follow these directions while watching the tutorials unless a laptop is carried to the driving range (except maybe for the grip lesson which can and should be practiced everywhere). Distractions are everywhere in the game of golf, but newbies should not necessarily be exposed to them right off the first tee. We don't want to lose our beginner golfers as soon as they join the ranks if the "I can't do this" fear sets in.


This instruction site may make a good combination to on-course lessons. At $7.95 per lesson or full online access for $39.95, you decide if an avatar can help teach you the game of golf or if you would rather visit Rick for a personal evaluation in NYC!


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Posted via email from stacysolomon's posterous

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Golf Tips from Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, at the 2011 Grand Slam of Golf

Rory McIlroy, in a six-minute PGA golf video interview during the Grand Slam of Golf this week, slipped fans a few tips about how he managed to win the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, "you need a consistent shot-shift; you need to know what to do with the ball."

Rory's shot-shaping draws were only one way in which this year's current "number three" golfer in the Official World Golf Rankings stayed in the mix. Balance and stability throughout the golf swing; standing wider on drives and in a more athletic position, is a key swing thought which Rory McIlroy uses along with the swing key of keeping his extension "nice and wide" through the swing. (Check out Rory's "puppy golf club cover" too!)

McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Charl Schwartzel and Keegan Bradley, the four major winners of the 2011 golf season, were on hand for a demonstration during this year's Grand Slam of Golf. Here are a few of the golf tips the three other winners had to offer.

Golf swing thoughts from The Open Championship winner, Darren Clarke, included the importance of controlling trajectory in windy conditions and a long-iron golf tip for amateurs: hit down on the ball with good body turn; no scooping!

Chipping has to do with rhythm, said Charl Schwartzel, so slow down during your shot and think about tempo and weight distribution.

2011 PGA Champion Keegan Bradley relied on putting to win and says that he places the top of the grip squarely in his navel and locks it in so it's in the same place every time, then forgets about swing mechanics and makes the putt!

The final round of the Grand Slam of Golf from Southhampton, Bermuda, is being televised on TNT and concludes on Wednesday October 19th. Check your local listings.

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photo credit: AP

Monday, October 17, 2011

Michelle Wie Promotes Education during golf day in Asia

American superstar Michelle Wie added her voice to a campaign by the United Nations’ children’s charity UNICEF for universal primary education in Asia during a brief stop in Hong Kong. Tim Maitland reports.

Michelle Wie_Jiyai Shin

Wie was speaking at the annual HSBC Champions Charity Golf Day at Hong Kong’s Clear Water Bay Golf & Country Club, which raises awareness and funds for UNICEF’s campaign.
 “I believe everyone should have the opportunity to get, at least, a primary education,” declared the 22-year-old.
“I’ve learned so much about myself going to college, not just from studies but about myself in general: moving away from my parents, having to do everything for myself, having to manage everything, I met some amazing people and I think everyone deserves that opportunity. Hopefully I’ll graduate in March. Getting my education, obviously, I believe very strongly in that… and I think it aligns very strongly with this day,” added Wie, who was en route from last week’s LPGA event in Malaysia to Stanford University in California where she is finishing her fifth and final year of a degree in communications.
The Honolulu-born Wie, who as a 12-year old became the youngest qualifier for an LPGA tournament, was making only her second trip to Hong Kong. He first, a family holiday twelve years ago, was ruined by a typhoon.
She cited “YE” Yang Yong-Eun’s achievement in becoming Asia’s firs male Major champion and the current domination of Taiwan’s current world number one Yani Tseng in the women’s game as proof of what Asians can achieve when they’re given the chance.
“She’s an amazing golfer. I’ve competed against her since I was fourteen and the way she has improved is very inspiring. She’s a very strong force out there whenever she is in contention, which I think is very impressive and it makes me want to become a better player because I’m kind of in her situation. There are so many players on tour from different places; you have the American players but you have Yani, Shanshan (Feng of China) and all the Korean players and players from Asia where opportunities may not be as available but when one is given the opportunity it’s amazing what they can do with it: that’s so important. It’s just giving people the opportunity and seeing what they can do. If they aren’t given the opportunity you never know what might have happened. You might have the next genius, but they can’t get into primary education; it’s important to give people a chance.”
Michelle Wie also took to the golf course as part of the event, which was the culmination of HSBC charity days across Asia that had already raised HK$ 1.5m for the UNICEF Child-Friendly Schools programme in over 20 countries. The events are part of the bank’s build up to next month’s WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai; the continent’s highest-ranked men’s tournament.
Wie singled that tournament out as an example of what Asia has been able to achieve once it got the chance to host top-quality golf. The HSBC Champions has been a World Golf Championship event since 2009. Meanwhile the women continue their “autumn swing” playing the inaugural Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship this week and the Mizuno Classic in Japan in two weeks time. They’ll return to Asia in February for the “spring swing” which normally includes the Honda LPGA Thailand and the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore.
“I think over the last few years the women’s tour has become very global, but watching the men’s tour on TV it’s also become very global as well. I think HSBC does a fantastic job of making world-class events and in Singapore and Shanghai you can see the results of that. Players love coming over here. It’s always a fun time. I love coming back to Singapore every year,” Wie said.

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 Michelle Wie in Asia: photo credit

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

With lackluster performance, why is Tiger Woods still the biggest draw in golf?

Despite lackluster performances and a huge slip in the golf rankings, Tiger Woods continues to be the fan and media favorite. Even if Woods were to pull off a top-five finish...or a win, will he ever regain the momentum which made him the number-one golfer in the world? This is one question that only Tiger can answer and which keeps fans hanging on the edge of their seats for a response!

Although PGA Tour golfers Molder and Baird should have received more press and accolades for the exciting six-hole playoff this past week at the Open, news outlets and golf blogs proved that, in order to get readership, it is imperative to give Woods the story.

A tie for 30th position at Open last week is hardly cause for celebration, especially when Tiger proclaimed that he had " probably one of the worst putting rounds I've ever had," missing three putts inside six feet in round-one of his comeback to PGA Tour golf. Good news is that Woods is playing golf again, possibly turning a corner in his own personal debacle and making golf his number one priority.

Tiger Woods is now a longshot in the event, no longer sporting the best odds, but with a new outlook (and a new caddie) and fans are desperately looking forward to a success story.

The Australian Open, the Presidents Cup and the Chevron World Challenge will help fans decide whether to continue to cheer for Woods, the current "underdog", or to find a new idol amidst a crowd of young golf superstars on several very competitive tours.

Tiger is on the comeback trail for sure, barely squeaking into a spot in the Chevron World Challenge, his own tournament, and is eager to reinvent himself now that, as Woods said, he has "no points coming off, so I can start rebuilding."

This is just what the fans want and need to hear from their fallen hero, who is happy to be playing golf and not just banging balls on a driving range.

Woods has also become more accessible to fans. Putting himself squarely in the public eye, from a contest to share the cover of his EA Sports game to inside-the-ropes putting opportunities, Tiger is creating opportunities for support and for a more dynamic return.

Is Tiger Woods "back"? This seems to be the Twitter question of the week. To his fans he has never left, just gone on hiatus; as for his golf game, we can only wait and see.

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photo credit:

Monday, October 10, 2011

WGC-HSBC Champions Golf: Try to win and you won't?

The last global tournament of the stroke play season will see an unprecedented number of newcomers rewarded for their wins with a place at the WGC-HSBC Champions. There’s also a good chance that, for the first time in golf history, the season will end with all the Major titles and WGC trophies in the hands of first-time winners!

Tim Maitland, in Part 2, reports:
WGC-HSBC Champions Preview: The Weird Art of Winning, Part 1

Why should learning to win matter? If you look at golf in an abstract sense, it’s an unusual sport in as much as nothing your opponents do impacts on your own score; so, in theory, the player who hits the ball best, makes the fewest mistakes and putts the ball most efficiently should win.
In reality, winning seems to have very little to do with technique; a suggestion supported by the fact that all the conversations on the subject, no-one talks about the nuts and bolts of their swings. Stop any of the world-class field at the WGC-HSBC Champions and they will, however, discuss at length what goes on in the grey matter between the ears and how the body reacts to that.
“It’s one of those things where you almost black out,” says 25-year-old Keegan Bradley, who as a rookie on the PGA Tour this year won the HP Byron Nelson Championship in Texas and then went on to become only the third player ever to claim a Major at his first attempt, when he beat Jason Dufner in a play-off at the 2011 PGA Championship.
“I don’t remember some of the shots and that’s a huge part of it; you’re just so into it. It’s a pretty intense experience. It’s a feeling that only people in sports can experience; it’s just intense!”
Even players who seem to take to winning the way ducks take to water reveal that at the highest level there is little that can prepare you for the feeling of being in contention.
Eighteen-year-old Italian wunderkind Matteo Manassero, who in 2009 at the age of 16 became the youngest-ever winner of the (British) Amateur Championship and was the youngest-ever winner on the European Tour when he claimed the 2010 Castello Masters Costa Azahar at 17 years and 188 days, struggles to describe the sensations of challenging to win a professional event.
“It’s strange. You can’t really explain it. It’s tense; you’ve got a lot of nerves. You start thinking about good things you’ve done in your life, for example as an amateur, and it might help. Having the experience from the British Amateur really helped. Once I got into contention the first time in Castillon and even when I won it was really, really tense and I didn’t know what to think.  Adrenaline makes you react a little bit differently. I don’t know what the secret is. I’m not sure there is a secret. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. There’s not much you can do to force it; there’s not much you can do to make it happen,” explains the teenager from the province of Verona, who qualified for Shanghai when he won the co-sanctioned Maybank Malaysian Open in April.
Equally it seems it’s hard to even know how you’re going to react, as Bradley said after beating Dufner in the three-hole shootout to claim his maiden Major.
“I kept thinking about the playoff that I won at the Byron Nelson, and the same thing happened to me in that; as soon as I realized I was going into a playoff, I completely calmed down. And I got to the tee on 16…it was the most calm I'd been probably all week. I don't know the reason why or what it was, but I was completely calm, and I absolutely striped it down that hole, which was fun. That hole, the playoff and in regulation…that hole, I'll never forget it the rest of my life. It was so exciting!” he declared.
Given how unpredictable the sensations and reactions to being in a winning position are, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, in the absence of the Tiger Woods of old, the tournament golf landscape is somewhat confusing at the moment.
“I think if you took thirty percent of that kind of experience out of any sport or that kind of top-level know-how from the C-suite of any business or work place anywhere in the world it would have to create some kind of void. It’s experience of success and there’s some truth to the saying that success breeds success,” says HSBC Group Head of Sponsorship, Giles Morgan.
“It’s fascinating trying to work out who will work out how to win next and asking yourself out of those first-time winners, which ones will emerge as a regular champion. It’s been pointed out that the last time there was this kind of unpredictability in golf was when Arnold Palmer and Gary Player emerged as Major champions; there has to be someone out there now who is about to do the same,” he added.
Try to Win and You Won’t
Any hacker or weekend warrior will know recognize the irony of a sport where the more you try the worse it can get; we’ve all started a round badly, played steadily worse, becoming increasingly frustrated until, just when we’re ready to give up, we finally smack one off the middle of the club. Another of the qualifiers for the HSBC Champions coming off a first win on the PGA Tour has done exactly that, except for him, it wasn’t one round… it was his whole career.
“I think there’s something to that. People had been telling me for years ‘You’re trying too hard! You’re just trying too hard! You’re trying too hard!’ I always thought, how can you try too hard? It doesn’t make any sense,” says Harrison Frazar, who set a PGA Tour record for the longest quest for victory when he claimed the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis in his 355th start.
The turning point for the now 40-year-old Texan was when, after starting the season by missing the cuts in six of his first eight events, he decided it was time to give up.
Immediately, the results came as he tied for 14th at the Byron Nelson and then won the next time out.
“In my mind it was over. Everybody was on board; family, friends… everybody knew it. Friends were even trying to talk me out of playing. They saw me at home, the way I was, and they said ‘This is crazy. We like you too much. We can’t see you tear yourself up anymore. It’s time to be done. We know you like golf, we know you love golf, but c’mon!’ It was somebody under the influence… of golf!” Frazar says.
 “I had just given up on trying to force results. It was time. I went to the Nelson with the idea that I’m just going to lay these things out for me so I can walk off the course at the end of the day and pat myself on the back. You just quit trying. You quit trying to micromanage every little thing that’s happening. I just said ‘I’m going to stand up, pick my lines and just hit it and see what happens’.”
The rewards for Frazar almost throwing the towel in have been fairly obvious. Having played in only four Majors over the previous eight years, this season he’s played in three. He’d never even made the rarified limited-field world of the WGC events: The HSBC Champions will be his second of the year.
Naturally, there are few examples as extreme as Frazar’s, but Hunter Mahan will attest to how fickle winning golf tournaments can be. In 2010 he claimed both the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open and his maiden WGC victory at the Bridgestone Invitational. For many, a Major win in 2011 seemed a logical progression.
“I can tell you, playing on the (PGA) Tour I've learned not to have expectations about how you play.  Last year was funny; I didn't really play very consistent but I had two wins.  And this year I've been much more consistent and had a bunch of top 10s, but haven't had any wins, so it's kind of strange,” he said when he returned to the Firestone Country Club to defend his WGC crown.
 “Whenever you watch great players play, they never look like they're trying to win; they're just trying to play the game correctly and hit the right shots at the right time and do all the right things that are going to enable you to win. When you're playing pretty consistent and you're close like I had been the first part of the year, my expectation was to win and get up there and just kind of do it. And this game is too hard to force it. You've got to keep working and keep learning and just kind of let it happen.  You trust everything, you trust your game, it will happen.”
It’s because of these emotional contradictions that so many golfers reach out to sports psychologists to try and find a framework that allows them to perform to their potential in pressure situations. Thus the game is full of players who talk, in different ways, of staying process oriented rather than results focused. Webb Simpson, a multiple winner on the PGA Tour in 2011, is one example.
“The goal that I set out to accomplish is to be one of the best players in the world, if not the best. But, I don't set result-oriented goals for myself. I just try to get up every day and do the most I can to improve my game. I want to expect that I can play with the guys who are the best players in the world. Fortunately right now things are going well for me, but I know this is a fickle game and I know there's ups and downs and I'm sure I'll have a time where it's not going near as well, and it won't be as easy. But just all I really try to do is keep improving,” the 26-year-old from North Carolina said.
Despite his miraculous season, Keegan Bradley still managed to have a mini-crisis of his own the week before winning the PGA Championship, when he found himself in contention at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. His final round 74 left him seeking advice from Dr. Bob Rotella, one of America’s leading sports psychologists, coach Jim McLean, and fellow pros Phil Mickelson and Camilo Villegas. The wisdom he got wasn’t rocket science, but clearly worked.
“They are all a lot of clich├ęs, but it was not getting into the result of winning this trophy or making a birdie or what it would mean to me. It was important to me to win Rookie of the Year, and that's something that was hurting me out there: thinking about it,” Bradley explained after his triumph.
“Phil and Camilo gave me some advice that only players can. Phil just told me to stay more patient out there. The major thing I tried to do (during the PGA Championship) was under-react to everything whether it was a good thing or a terrible thing. That was [what] the key was, to under-react. And if you watch Phil play, he gets excited but he never gets too down on himself, and that was the key.”
Everyone is searching for similar keys, even Stuart Appleby, a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour who makes the field by virtue of his 2010 JB Were Australian Masters victory. He describes how his ears pricked up when he heard a question about winning asked to two of the greats of the game during this year’s Memorial Tournament.
“They had Faldo and Nicklaus in the commentary booth and the commentator asked ‘When things weren’t quite turning out right, what did you do?’ I was ready for this amazing answer and Jack Nicklaus says ’You’ve just got to suck it up. You’ve just got to suck it up.’!” Appleby exclaims.
“Now, what that means to each person is down to your own interpretation, but what he was saying is you just have to slap yourself on the face and get going and get playing!”
Clearly that’s what Rory McIlroy did in between blowing up in the final round of this year’s Masters and turning a similar third-round lead at the US Open into one of the most stunning victories. Equally, at the PGA Championship, Bradley did the same to himself when he triple-bogeyed the 15th in the final round.
“I didn't want it to define my tournament and I just kept telling myself to just pretend like nothing happened and go out there and hit this fairway. That's what I kept telling myself walking to the tee was just hit this fairway. And it was the best shot I hit all week. I absolutely striped it right down the middle,” Bradley told the media after his historic win.
Had Bradley stayed focused on his mistake that day, done what many of us would do and spent the rest of his round berating himself, his maiden Major win would never have come. It sounds easy to do on paper, but, as Allenby points out, the reality of golf is it’s a sport that loves to help you beat yourself up.
“That’s the tough part of the game, because the game, if you use a boxing analogy, is always trying to work you over, and put you in a corner of the ring and punch you…  
“And punch you hard!
“And it’s a bigger opponent than you!
“What you spend your whole career doing is trying to keep out of the corner, keep light on your feet, keep energetic, keep enthusiastic and not get down… but it’s so easy to get manhandled into the corner. I think the great champions never got into the corner for very long,” the 40-year-old Aussie concludes.
A Matter of Experience 
So as the world’s top golfers gear up for the WGC-HSBC Champions – the last global gathering of the great and good in 2011 — with few of the proven winners seeming to be in winning form, how have the first-time winners got ahead of the pack? It’s interesting that many of them have some sort of life or golf experience that lessened the enormity of the task they succeeded at.
None of those stories is more heart-breaking than that of the Open Champion Darren Clarke.  The Northern Irishman was a regular winner and a contender in the Majors until his wife Heather was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time in 2001. She was diagnosed with a recurrence in 2004 and succumbed to her illness in 2006. Six weeks after her death, her husband resumed his golf career at the Ryder Cup. He readily admitted that having gone through that experience, winning the Open at Royal St. George this year wasn’t nearly as difficult as it might have been.
“It's not possible to compare, but I think the emotions and everything that I went through walking towards that first tee at The K Club in 2006, getting onto the first tee and making contact with the golf ball and managing to look up and see that it was thankfully going down the middle of the fairway, I will never forget anything more difficult on the golf course than I did that morning, and to this day, I still haven't faced anything as difficult as that. That in itself made Royal St. Georges an awful lot easier for me because I will never face anything as tough as what that was,” the 43-year-old said after lifting the claret jug.
Clarke also mentions the weather on the Saturday of the tournament. In the fiendishly difficult conditions that earn seaside links golf its reputation, it was so wet and windy that Tom Watson’s two-over-par round actually moved him up the leader board. Clarke was one-under for the day and the outright leader.
“I think confidence is everything in victory. You need to have the self belief that you can hit the shot when you need to hit the shot or make the four‑footer when you need to make the four‑footer.  You need to have that confidence, and I think I gained an awful lot of confidence from the way that I played on the Saturday.  That stood me in great stead for Sunday because to me Saturday was a tougher day than what Sunday was, and I had bit the ball as good as I could, so it carried on into Sunday,” he explained.
Keegan Bradley has a similar tale to tell of his maiden PGA Tour victory at the Byron Nelson in Irving, Texas, where the winds were so strong the final round was described as “a survival test”.   
“It was really brutal weather so I think I was focusing on not making double (bogey) on every hole. That helped a lot. I also had a great caddie in “Pepsi” – Steve Hale – that helped me. Caddies are such a big part of winning – people don’t realise. He’d won before and he helped me stay calm.”
Making triple bogey going into the closing stretch at the PGA Championship also forced Bradley to focus, this time on chasing down Jason Dufner: “For me it was easier because I knew I had to make some birdies,” he said.
Among the first-time WGC winners lining up for the HSBC Champions there are similar kinds of stories. Australia’s Adam Scott got the biggest win of his career at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with Tiger’s longtime caddie Steve Williams on his bag and admitted his presence contributed to him playing “like a bulldog” to win: “It's almost like I need to show him I've got it in me, because a lot of people question it,” he said afterwards.
Then there’s the defending champion Francesco Molinari who resisted consistent pressure from newly-crowned world number one Lee Westwood to win the “Duel on the Bund” at last year’s WGC-HSBC Champions. Would he have been so steadfast without having gone through the madness in the mud at the Celtic Manor Ryder Cup just five weeks before?
“There’s so much pressure that week; you can’t do anything to take pressure off yourself. You just have to live with it and play with it. After a while you get used to playing with all the tension. It’s just a great feeling for a sportsman to be playing in an environment like that. It’s a lot of tension and a lot of pressure but at the same time it’s also a lot of fun because you don’t play for money, you don’t play for world ranking points… you just play for winning and the team. It should be less pressure, but when you see all the people supporting you and you see all your teammates trying hard it is a lot of pressure on your shoulders,” Molinari says of his Ryder Cup experience.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
For each player, however, the details of the combination that proves to be the key that unlocks those wins is subtly, sometimes infuriatingly, different.
“It’s difficult to do because so many people start to think of the people behind them trying to catch them and so many people try to save their score. It’s very difficult because we should be able to play the same golf on the 1st hole of a tournament as we do on the 72nd,” says 28-year-old Spaniard Alvaro Quiros, who has won once in every European Tour season since 2007, including some of the highest ranking events on the Tour, such as this year’s Dubai Desert Classic. 
“I have to learn, but in a different way. I should try to give myself more chances. I’m too ambitious. Too hard to myself sometimes and this, probably, makes me miss more shots than I should. Everybody has to go through a process. I’ve been improving. I used to be even more aggressive. I used to be even more impassioned. Little by little golf puts you in your proper place. If you’re able to improve with the shots God gives you I think you can improve a lot and this is what is happening to you.”
And what has Quiros learned in attempting to win more often and win bigger?
“Try to keep myself in the present. Try to keep doing the same that I was doing. Don’t try to accelerate the end of the competition,” he says.
As Harrison Frazar can vouch, finding the specific answer can take a long time… in his case almost a whole lifetime in golf.
“I did think ’Thankfully I’ve figured it now. At least now I’ve figured it out!’ So I’m 40 years old, but who cares? At least I can go and do it now. I could have retired and never figured it out, so I’m thankful for that,” he laughs.
When the cards finally fall on the table, when the penny finally drops, you’d be forgiven for thinking that winning again would come more naturally. Webb Simpson certainly thought so after claiming his maiden victory at this August’s Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina, but he quickly discovered that wasn’t the case when he followed up with a victory at the September’s Deutsche Bank Championship; the second event of the FedEx Cup play-offs.
"I told somebody that I feel like next time I was in contention it'll be a lot easier than Greensboro, and it wasn't that way at all. It was just as hard. The shots and the putts were just as hard. I think it helped just calm me down a little, but it was like I had never won a golf tournament before.  I thought winning the second time would be easier," Simpson declared after his second win.
Simpson could have gained that wisdom by asking someone eight years his junior. Like Rory McIlroy, Matteo Manassero is one of the more precocious winners in professional golf, yet he doesn’t even hesitate when asked if it gets any simpler.
“No! Once you’ve won ten times maybe it becomes easier, but when you’ve one once or twice you feel the pressure for your third or fourth!” 

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

WGC-HSBC Champions Preview: The Weird Art of Winning, Part 1

The last global tournament of the stroke play season will see an unprecedented number of newcomers rewarded for their wins with a place at the WGC-HSBC Champions. There’s also a good chance that, for the first time in golf history, the season will end with all the Major titles and WGC trophies in the hands of first-time winners. Tim Maitland reports.

As the world’s best golfers descend on Shanghai for the WGC-HSBC Champions, the world of golf has never been so wide open.


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At the moment all of the big trophies have pride of place in their winner’s display cabinets, because none have won at such lofty levels before. The PGA Championship and US Open Championship belong to relative youngsters in 25-year-old Keegan Bradley and 22-year-old Rory McIlroy. The Masters belongs to Charl Schwartzel, 27, making first-time Open Champion Darren Clarke look like a grizzled veteran at 43. 

This year’s WGCs belong to a group of thirty-somethings – England’s world number one Luke Donald (WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship), American Nick Watney (WGC-Cadillac Championship) and Australia’s Adam Scott (WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) – while 28-year-old Italian Francesco Molinari returns to Shanghai to defend the WGC-HSBC Champions.

Thirteen different players have won the last thirteen Majors and only three of them (Mickelson, Cabrera and Harrington) have won Majors before. The last nine World Golf Championships events have also been won by nine different winners; a spell unprecedented since the stable of elite tournaments was introduced in 1999.

There have been six different winners of the last six European Tour Orders of Merit (more recently the Race to Dubai). Compare that to the period between 2005 and 1993 when Colin Montgomerie (eight times), Ernie Els (twice), Retief Goosen (twice), and Lee Westwood (once) shared thirteen titles.

It’s the same on the PGA Tour, where democracy reigns after the duopoly of Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh who were the only players to lead the PGA Tour money list at season’s end or record the most wins between 2009 and 1999. The PGA Player of the Year award and the Jack Nicklaus Trophy (The PGA Tour Player of the Year), with the exception of Padraig Harrington claiming both in 2008, also belonged to Woods or Singh.

This season there have been twelve first-time winners during PGA Tour regular season and an almost unprecedented parade of rookie winners. Compared to the stability of previous years, even the FedEx Cup and Tour Championship winner Bill Haas – a two-time PGA Tour winner in 2010 – could be described as coming from relative obscurity.

The reason would seem to be obvious: the decline of Tiger Woods. Arguably the greatest golfer ever (although some will deny him that claim unless he rebounds and overtakes Jack Nicklaus’s record of eighteen Major triumphs), Woods was so dominant that through to the end of 2009 he’d won almost thirty per cent of his starts on the PGA Tour.

If you combine his two hottest periods, from 1999 to 2002 and from 2005 to 2008, he claimed thirteen of the twenty-seven Majors he played.  Up until the end of 2009, he triumphed in sixteen of the twenty-nine WGC events in which he competed.

What we’re seeing now, with Tiger so far down the rankings and so far removed from his last big victory that he hasn’t qualified to play in China, is not just young talent, but several generations of golfers figuring out how to win.


Part two in Tim Maitland's article coming soon: Why should learning to win matter?



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